Meeting Our Kids Where They Are

Tom and I used to have this thing we called “front porching” – as in, want to go front porching tonight?

Those were pretty wild and crazy times in our marriage, I tell ya. At least a couple times a week, when the Michigan weather allowed, we would grab a drink and head out to, wait for it, the front porch. Sometimes we’d sit in silence, sometimes we’d play Words with Friends on our phones, but mostly, we’d just talk.

We’d discuss everything from the article we read on the internet over lunch to our hopes and dreams for the future. After his initial diagnosis, we talked about what we would do once life returned to normal. When we learned life wouldn’t return to normal, we strategized my game plan going forward. We never scheduled meetings to talk about money, meal planning or end-of-life care. All those discussions happened on the front porch.

I’ve been thinking about front porching a lot lately. Not because I’m reminiscing about Tom (although I am), but because I think it holds an obvious answer to one of my big problems: how to connect with my kids better.

Shoehorning Kids into Schedules Doesn’t Work

The beautiful thing about front porching was that it provided access without expectations. No one had to say, “hey, let’s talk about [insert huge emotionally-charged issue here].” It came up naturally, and we both knew we’d have amble opportunities to bring up whatever was on our mind. Tonight didn’t feel right? No problem. We’d probably be out on the front porch tomorrow too.

That sort of access is what I want to provide my kids. However, I’ve been going about it all wrong. I’ve been looking at my calendar and trying to figure out where to fit in the kids. In reality, I really should have been looking at my kids and deciding where I fit in for them.

For example: In my mind, 8pm is a magic time. It’s when Mom clocks out, and Maryalene clocks in. So it’s always been a point of frustration when a parade of teens shows up in my office at 8:30. This is my time. Doesn’t that know that the designated open office hours were between 5-7pm?

No, they don’t. And that’s been my whole problem. I’ve been expecting that I could plan a time when we’d have our family bonding and make that work for everyone. After all, I’m Mom. I get to dictate these things, right?

But kids don’t work that way. Teens especially don’t work that way. They (or mine at least) seem to want to decompress on their own for a few hours after school. The dinner table is loud. The little ones draw my attention until they go to bed. Later is when the teens naturally want to share with me all the details, big and small, of their day.

Rather than be annoyed they are messing up evening, shouldn’t I be grateful they want to be a part of it?

Making Time for Kids on Their Terms

So this issue with my kids has been rolling around in my head for a while – the worry I feel about being a distant parent, coupled with my annoyance that they are always demanding my attention when I don’t want to give it – and then I had an epiphany. Why not take the concept of front porching and apply it to the kids?

Rather than clocking out at 8pm, I’m going to adjust my expectations by an hour. Rather than heading to my office to clean up emails after putting the littles to bed, I’ll head to the living room. In the summer, maybe I’ll even go to the front porch. I’ll take a book in case I don’t have any teen visitors, but I’ll be ready and I won’t be annoyed.

As for the little kids, they are more difficult. They typically don’t have weighty topics on their minds like the teens do, and they are often happy to entertain themselves. It’s easy to just let them be, but I still want to give them a predictable time when they know Mom will be around and available. I also want that time to one that makes sense for their day.

For them, I think puzzles after dinner might be the answer. The 4-year old is surprisingly good at them, and the 7-year old likes them too. Even if they aren’t interested in helping, I can sit in the living room working on it while they play. This will also help solve my problem of what to do during that no man’s land between dinner and their 8 pm bedtime. It’s when I’m always tempted to get sucked into social media because I don’t have a purpose for that time of the day.

It all seems so easy and obvious, doesn’t it? Just like front porching, it isn’t rocket science. However, finding a time to spend with the kids – based on what works for them, not just for me – is a revelation all the same.

How do you or how did you connect with your children from those toddler to teen years?

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    1. Maryalene I think the thought you’ve put into your children is so very insightful. Teens and young adults do need us to be available and somewhat predictable. The little ones need that type of one on one also, but it seems that they are more likely to ask more freely for that special attention. Teens and young adults are a little more reluctant to ask for one on one. Their struggle is to be independent vs needing mom’s wisdom. A few years ago, my daughter and I were having some issues and I felt that we were becoming more distant. My husband made an observation: he said everytime we got together it seems that I was doing all the talking-yikes. Now as uncomfortable as it is to keep my mouth shut, I’m finding after a long pause she begins to open up. That’s when I ask leading questions and try not to monopolize the conversation with do’s and don’ts. Meeting them where they are says it all.

      1. I’m also really trying hard not to fill all the blank space myself. I have one child in particular — the one who is most likely to show up in my office at 8:30 — who won’t talk in the car. I ask questions and get grunts for answers. I used to try to force the conversation, but I’m now trying to bite my tongue and remember that he’ll come talk to me when he’s good and ready.

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